FOX Soccer Exclusive
Jose Mourinho has Chelsea humming
As a set of statistics, try this for size: Played 15, won 15, drawn 0, lost 0, goals for 33, goals against 9. That represents the collective Premier League results of the top three teams, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea, since Christmas. If they are all looking at each other wondering who is going to blink first, well, so far nobody is even twitching.
It is a sign of how far Manchester United have slipped off the radar is that expectations for anything other than another Chelsea victory over the weekend were unusually low. Stamford Bridge was in jubilant mood as Samuel Eto’o plundered his hat-trick and another brick was added to the foundations of a title challenge that looks stronger by the week. If Arsenal and Manchester City might have had a sliver of hope that Chelsea might be derailed by an old foe, there was no chance of that happening. The old fortitude is very much back in place.
Jose Mourinho’s tune has changed considerably since the opening weekend of the season. Oh, how he tried to reel us all in with gentle talk designed to underplay his team’s chances for this campaign. On the day before the first Premier League game of his second act as Chelsea manager, he even asked the media to back off, to give him time to build something without too much pressure of expectation.
With an apparently straight face, he said this: “Give us the protection you gave to other teams over the years by saying, ‘they are a young team, they need time, they need to make mistakes’. So hopefully you are fair and say, 'Jose, work with calm, no pressure, and do your best'." It was classic Mourinho, trying to manipulate the atmosphere around the team.
His focus back then, as he kept stressing, was on the youngsters. Over recent transfer windows, up to 100 million pounds had been spent assembling a crop of young talent including Oscar, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Andre Schürrle, Kevin de Bruyne and Marco van Ginkel. Bringing on the youth was a major part of Mourinho’s pre-season rhetoric. "The old generation – if you can call them that – are in fantastic condition to support the kids,” he said. “The old generation is here because they have a lot to give as a players but specially to give a contribution to make these boys top players."
But take a closer look at that list. Oscar and Hazard are having fine seasons. Mata’s well-publicized difficulties connecting with the “Mourinho way” lead to the inevitable suggestion he will move on. Schürrle is having a season of adaptation, and often is a substitute. Lukaku is enhancing his reputation and gaining experience on loan with Everton. De Bruyne has been and gone, his few months there filed away as a frustrating disappointment. Van Ginkel has been injured for months.
In the meantime, Mourinho popped out and bought Willian and Eto’o, two clever footballers with big reputations and masses of European experience. The Chelsea team that has taken shape this season is not really based on the kind of callowness which tallies up with Mourinho’s preseason call for patience. The squad which defeated United was packed with know-how. With Eto’o and Willian adding their force and quality to an already strong (and reinvigorated) party, Mourinho is evidently keyed up for winning now – not in future. Yes, the center forward position is still an issue, but not enough of one to prevent the team from carving out result after result.
More than half way through the campaign, Chelsea are completely in the groove. The fabled old relentlessness of the first Mourinho period is a cornerstone once again. That sense of them just powering through opponents, ticking off matches, eyes on the prize, has gained weight as the season has progressed.
When it was put to him that he had reached 100 Premier League wins in record time after Manchester United were put to the sword, Mourinho’s expression had a hint of scorn. What kind of milestone is that?! Each win matters to him. Every single one. All the wins that welded together produce a big piece of silver to prove that they have been better than everyone else in a competition matters. Trophies are meaningful, but nice round numbers are arbitrary. Records just make you likelier to win tournaments.
Chelsea are in the hunt with every ounce of power and experience Mourinho can muster.
More Stories From Amy Lawrence